So, how will you feel? How will you fill that vast empty space in your life? The whole world is staring at him and wanting to know, but in all honesty Jamie Carragher just doesn’t have a clue about what lies beyond his 724th and last game for Liverpool at Loftus Road. The rest of his life is just amorphous and out there; as much of an uncertainty as you’d expect for someone whose parameters have been set by preparing for and playing football matches, since he was nine years old.
It’s not that he hasn’t reflected in his quieter moments about how it will be, trying to find a replacement for the vast repository for emotion and energy which football has always offered. “I’ve been thinking about that,” he says. “I’ll have to find a five-a-side team or something! All that running around, shouting – every day you get it out of your system. Yeah, I’ll have to find something… I fancy having a go at squash actually!” But the games are only one, rarefied fraction of it. Strange though it may sound, it’s Melwood rather than Anfield which he’s going to miss the most. Anne on reception, who’s the only one who’s been here longer than he has; the lads on the gate; the canteen staff upstairs. He’s measured out his life with these people. There’s been hardly a week in 16 years when he’s not shared a joke with them.
When Carragher talks about the mental calculations he’s gone through just to make sure he reaches his own swansong captaining the team today – a red card against Newcastle, Everton or Fulham in the past weeks and that would have been that for him – makes you understand why he says he actually is “looking forward to the end now.” Someone texted him before the Fulham game to say ‘don’t get sent off’ and he actually asked Mark Halsey before kick-off, to help him out.
“I just said ‘if I’m misbehaving or whatever, get them to bring me off.’ He said ‘don’t handball it on the line or do a professional foul and you’ll be alright!’ I thought, ‘imagine if you end up missing your last game through being suspended.’ Sometimes situations happen.”
He’s made it, though, displaying at a rare press conference in his honour that the spotlight really isn’t something that comes naturally to him, even though he’s more extrovert than his friend Steven Gerrard - an old hand at these occasions now because he’s had to be. He throws out some excellent one-liners as the TV crews throw in such questions as how a “team of Carraghers” would fare on the field of play. “A lot of 0-0s.” He gives someone who actually believes Carragher might take up golf fairly short shrift. “Nosey this fella isn’t he..!”
But when there aren’t 20 cameras trained on him, he begins to reflect on how the belief systems of today’s young players may mean that it may become harder to find those like him and Gerrard, who were so desperate for every minute of training alongside John Barnes at Melwood. The desire teenagers felt for the game in those days is becoming harder to locate, he says. “It’s just different generations. I’m sure my dad will say he had more than me. It’s just society in general now. You don’t see it as much. You could talk of all other reasons why it is, but you don’t see as many kids with it as you should do. It’s a worry for football, not just Liverpool. It’s not just an excuse for Liverpool kids. If anyone is going to have that character, it’s going to be Liverpool kids, so maybe they should all be worried the same. In general, you hear stories of kids … and sometimes wonder if they have got that [same] bit of something about them.”
They were simpler times when Carragher broke through; days the like of which we won’t know again. He did his growing up at a club steeped in doing things in the old way, when you knew you’d been picked for the first team if Ronnie Moran asked you for your pre-game food order. “That’s when you knew,” Carragher once reflected. “There was no summons into the manager’s office or grand announcement of your inclusion. Those seven words – ‘What do you want to eat tomorrow?’ – started hundreds of Liverpool careers.” It was chickens and beans for him - he’d read an interview with Alan Shearer a few weeks before Moran uttered the fabled words to him and thought he’d be on safe ground if he went with that superstar’s choice. He didn’t get on the field on that occasion, so it was January 8, 1997 when he finally made the first team, as a second half substitute for Rob Jones in a League Cup tie at Middlesbrough which Liverpool lost 2-1.
Of course, back then he thought he would be among those legends of title-winning Liverpool players. Carragher seizes so rapidly on the lack a championship when asked for his prime source of regret that you imagine it’s been there, doing his head in, these last few months. All Liverpool’s own fault, of course. “We’ve not been good enough,” he says, recanting what he told us in his autobiography five years ago. Even then the missing title was “a void – a gaping, lingering hole I fear will never be filled before that dreaded moment when I wear the red shirt for the last time.” And though it has been a fixation – “I don’t just think about winning the League once a day, but sometimes as many as half a dozen times in an afternoon,” Carragher also once said – it’s impossible to prize out of him any hint of enmity for the bete noire of L4, who having done so very much to prevent Carragher taking this prize, will bow out on the very same afternoon as him.
“Why? What’s he done!?” says the 35-year-old when it is out to him that he must curse Sir Alex Ferguson. “Listen, I’m not one of them that gets like that because of someone else winning. It would be bad. I’m not into making excuses. I don’t know him that well. I’ve seen him at games I suppose, had a few arguments at half time, different things like that. But the reason I like him is because to see someone a little bit like yourself in terms of passion at that age - I just find it remarkable. I think it’s brilliant, to be honest, at that age, to have that passion to win. Obviously he’s retired now but he’s been a great manager and if you said anything other than that you’d be stupid.”
The only substantial point on which Carragher differs from Ferguson is the Scot’s claim that United knocked Liverpool off their “f***** perch.” Liverpool fell off it, he has always argued. “Every wound Liverpool has suffered has been self-inflicted,” he wrote in the autobiography. “Ferguson has been in the privileged position since 1991 of having to do no more than walk past us once a season and kick us while we’re down.”
He expresses tentative optimism about competing for a Champions League presence again. “We can’t be having it where we’ve not even been close enough to put a challenge in throughout the season, if you look,” he says. “It’s always been a climb to get to where we are. So if we take the form of the second half of the season into the start of next, and it will be a lot brighter.” Brendan Rodgers “will take it up again next season,” he adds. “And with FFP (Financial Fair Play), I don’t know much about it, but I’d imagine that will help us. Even the Ferguson situation will help in some respects, not just Liverpool, but maybe it’s giving everyone an opportunity.”
His work for Sky Sports means he won’t be going back to Anfield all that often. “I don’t want to be one of those people who keeps popping up all the time at the ground and that sort of thing - you have to be careful,” he says. His son, James, who is at Liverpool’s Academy will still be there, even though “he can’t say his dad’s a Liverpool player any more and Monday morning his dad will be just like everyone else.!”
Carragher wants to be remembered “just as someone who was always there, gave his all. Just: ‘he was always there for us, home and away, that type of thing - come hail, rain or shine.” But, because Carragher is inextricably bound up in the life and laughter of this city, he won’t be taking a penalty kick if Liverpool are awarded one, are well ahead and the fans are calling his name tomorrow. “I wouldn’t,” he says. “No. Imagine going for a pint after the game. They’d say ‘you missed a penalty in your last game…’!’Reuse content